The student who spoke those lines to me recently did not appear to accompany Tim Reckhart down the red carpet at last month’s Oscar ceremony. I wonder why.
Seeing Tim there was an impressive sight, even more so as his film, Head Over Heels, nominated for best short animation, was his NFTS graduation film. That is an extraordinary achievement, and must surely open up many doors for him.
For those not fortunate, yet, to have such a glittering calling card, what happens after graduation can be a difficult period. Students are often elated, and exhausted, from the effort of their last year, and probably have expectations of walking straight into the next feature or their short film. It can, and has happened, but hopefully the tutors have given the students some realistic expectations, and have instilled in them that the conditions under which they made their graduation film is relatively luxurious, and is unlikely to be granted them again. Hopefully, too, the tutors have engendered useful contacts within the industry, and, hopefully again, the student is clutching a clear, concise show reel or a webpage that demonstrates their talent.
Work experience can be a useful start, if a little demoralising and the constant rejections can hurt. We all try to offer such experience, we really do, and we try to take trainees on, but sometimes the relentless logistics can’t support extra crew. If it’s offered, grab it. Saying ‘no’ to anything is not an option. We do look at every reel sent, and I certainly try to acknowledge every letter, and it does hurt if I can’t offer work immediately. But we don’t forget a good reel. Keep writing; though remember there’s a fine line between keenness and harassment. Write with some focus knowing exactly what you want to do. I hope your course has given you experience enough to know where your interests lie. Non-specific enthusiasm is great but not that helpful. Know exactly what you want to do.
Being honest, the realities of a working studio are somewhat different to a university set-up. They are, in my experience, a well-oiled machine, but I have seen many a student daunted by the pressure of having to shoot so many seconds a day, and panicked by the lack of time to rehearse or think things through. I love the adrenalin of a television series or one’s own short film, but it can be terrifying. There is, simply, no faffing about. It’s a very different mind-set that requires ingenuity, concentration, commitment, contribution, and focus. I’d encourage colleges to do exercises replicating these conditions in preparation.
Whilst you are at college, or waiting for that email, grab any chance to watch animation; practice with an iPhone app, or to hone your story telling skills. Go to plays, ballets, operas, life drawing, and every acting class and talk possible. Absorb it all with a thirst. With the nature of this medium, nothing can be approached half-heartedly. Above all, keep being a story teller and a performer. Find stories in whatever you can. The rest will follow.
And that haircut can wait till the Oscars.
Oscar and BAFTA nominated Barry Purves has worked in animation, mainly with puppets, for thirty five years, on TV series, and his own, unique films, and has been involved with several features. He teaches around the world, and has written two books about stop-motion. He also directs and designs for the theatre.
Barry is currently directing Toby’s Travelling Circus for Channel 5, and his last two films, Plume and Tchaikovsky can currently be seen in festivals.
Barry’s website can be found at http://www.barrypurves.com/